(continuing the discussion "Hearing God" from yesterday)
So, to hear God one must get to know Jesus, and as we do, we can witness how his words resonate in the world, and our lives.
This is why prayer, meditation, and retreat is so important, as it's essentially "de-briefing time" we can use to finally get a sense of what God has been saying.
Last summer, I took a couple of days to meet three friends at a Renovare' conference in Cleveland, Ohio, which featured Dr. Dallas Willard and Richard Foster speaking on the spiritual disciplines (check out www.Renovare.org for more info on this wonder ministry). The chance to hear two minds like Foster and Willard express themselves on the meaning of Jesus' teachings, coupled with the great company of three other friends, and the beautiful location of the conference itself (not to mention our housing... Thanks again to my sister-in-law for the use of their house that weekend!) created an environment where all of the things percolating in my soul had the chance to coalesce, and become understandable.
Time spent in collective, and individual prayer that weekend resulted in some pretty important decisions being made. One of us (a pastor) finally acknowledging that he was ready for a new challenge in his career (ultimately resulting in his relocating to a new church). Another member of our little group made the decision to answer a call to ministry that had existed more than twenty years (he'll be starting school this fall). A third member of our collective received new insight into his strengths and weaknesses when it came to building relationships with others. And as for myself, I was able to start processing a number of tumultuous events (the death of a friend and mentor, a difficult church situation, and the move to Shawnee UMC) from the past year of my life.
When we are in constant communication with, and study of, the Living God, we prepare ourselves for those kinds of "eureka" moments where we are able to receive a Word that will truly have an impact on our lives. Times of regular prayer and meditation that will help us process conflict, reach new levels of self-awareness, make a breakthrough of understand in regard to our purpose in this world, and generally get a sense of our role in the folding "Kingdom of God" Jesus told us was present, here and now.
My father grew up in very humble surroundings. While he was greatly loved by his parents, his childhood was a difficult one spent on the "wrong side of the tracks". His was a life where he shined shoes as a child to earn money to buy new school clothes. I've always greatly respected him, because the place he has arrived at in his life (standard of living, professional position, etc...) he largely earned on his own. I think, though, he never forgot about the people and places that offered him the opportunity to better himself, and as time passed, starting asking God what He wanted him to do in terms of "giving back".
In 1995, after introducing him to "mission trips" via the youth ministry I had served, I took Dad to Haiti on a mission experience where we were going to help build a school in a small rural village. In the context of those nine days, my father's long-standing prayer was answered. His entire life he had heard the words of Jesus about serving "the least of these", but it was in a worship service done entirely in Creole that he finally heard those words spoken to him. He found in passion in the context of those people, and that school, resulting in the re-organization of his life so that he can make a physical and fiscal impact in that country of great need. His purpose in life was re-defined in that process, and now he feels like he's being fully utilized by the God who created him.
And that, I think, is how "hearing God" works.